BENNINGTON -- The Vermont Department of Health is warning of a "widespread outbreak" of whooping cough that has affected people statewide this summer.
There have been 68 confirmed cases of pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, since June 1. For the year there has already been 201 confirmed cases, which is the most since 1997 when there were 283.
The frequency of whooping cough has fluctuated over the years, which officials believe has to do with the prevalence of vaccinations.
State Epidemiologist for Infectious Diseases Patsy Kelso said Thursday the Center for Disease Control is now studying the effectiveness of vaccines as the disease has been on the rise nationwide.
"The CDC is looking at vaccine effectiveness as a possibility (for the increase in cases). It may not be as effective as we would like it to be. Although, with that said, the vaccine is still the most effective means we have to reduce pertussis disease," Kelso said.
The department said trends have not shown an epicenter for the outbreak and cases have been confirmed in all regions the past two months. There have not been any confirmed cases in Windham County. However, in Bennington County there have been nine confirmed cases since June 1. The only counties with more cases are Chittenden with 23 and Addison with 12, according to department data.
Whooping cough is caused by a bacterial infection of the lungs that begins with mild upper
Infants, who are most susceptible to the dangers of whooping cough, may have less typical symptoms such as gagging or difficulty breathing.
The department said three infants have been hospitalized with confirmed or probably cases of whooping cough since June 1. More than half of infants less than one year of age who catch whooping cough require hospitalization. Kelso said infants face the largest risks because they have not received the full series of vaccines and they have smaller, more delicate lungs.
Although whooping cough may cause death, DOH archives dating back to 2000 show no death certificates in Vermont have indicated whooping cough to be the cause, Kelso said.
The last widespread outbreak of whooping cough in Vermont was in 1996 and 1997 when more than 550 cases were confirmed. The numbers then hovered around and below 100 for a number of years and decreased drastically from 2008 to 2010 when there were just 41 combined cases in the Vermont, Kelso said.
Last year the number of again rose close to 100.
The department is asking people who have symptoms of whooping cough to visit their doctor. People with confirmed cases are supposed to stay out of school, work and other group settings until completing five days of antibiotic therapy.
"If you have a persistent cough, get it evaluated and don't go into group settings with an unevaluated persistent cough," Kelso said.